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7 Fantasy/Science Fiction Epics That Can Inform You About the Real-World Political Scene

31 July 2016

From Learn Liberty:

The politics of science fiction and fantasy series may seem like a frivolous topic at a time when we have so many serious real political problems. But it’s nonetheless worth considering, if only because far more people read science fiction novels, and watch genre movies and TV series than read serious nonfiction literature on political issues. Besides, the politics of imaginary worlds is a lot more fun to contemplate than the dismal real-world political scene.

. . . .

Babylon 5

Set on a strategically located space station that seeks to bring together warring powers, Babylon 5 is perhaps the most underrated science fiction TV series of the last several decades. Its politics are vaguely left of center, but often hard to pin down.

Yet one noteworthy theme does shine through: the dangers of nationalism. Otherwise admirable characters such as Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari and Narn leader G’Kar end up causing enormous harm because of their single-minded desire to increase the power and prestige of their peoples.

Londo is so intent on making the Centauri Republic great again that he seals a dangerous bargain with the nefarious Shadows that ultimately results in the death of millions and the devastation of his homeworld. Outbreaks of nationalist fervor also lead to repressive and counterproductive policies in the Earth Alliance. It’s a lesson worth revisiting in the age of Donald Trump, which has also seen a resurgence of nationalism in Western Europe, Russia, and elsewhere.

. . . .

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece is probably the most influential fantasy series ever. Tolkien’s strong suspicion of government power permeates the story. The Ring of Power after which the book is named allows the wielder to control the will of others and eventually corrupts himself as well. It is a metaphor for political power. Significantly, not even good people like the wizard Gandalf can be trusted with the Ring. If they try to use it, they will inevitably be corrupted by it. The only way to eliminate the threat posed by the Ring is to destroy it. It cannot be used for good. This view stands in sharp contrast to the more common belief that political power can be a force for good if only it is wielded by the right people.

Even more explicitly antigovernment is the symbolism inherent in the chapter entitled “The Scouring of the Shire.” When the secondary villain Saruman temporarily takes over the Shire (homeland of the hobbits), he and his henchmen institute a system of “gathering and sharing” under which the state expropriates the wealth of the population and transfers it to politically favored groups. The episode was likely inspired by the wartime rationing system that the left-wing Labor Party government continued even after World War II. More broadly, it represents Tolkien’s critique of socialism.

Link to the rest at Learn Liberty


5 Comments to “7 Fantasy/Science Fiction Epics That Can Inform You About the Real-World Political Scene”

  1. I’m going to skim right over my personal opinions on that Babylon 5 analysis. Can of worms much.

    Read the original article. Interesting take on the different versions of BSG. Would also like to add: Ender’s Shadow. Whatever the opinions of Orson Scott Card, the story of things played out immediately after Ender exited Earth is creepy, especially viewed in light of recent events. Holy Islamic State Batman. 0.o

    Edit: Not that that’s the ONLY thing going on in those books, but watching the world that unified to fight Buggers fall apart into factions after they ‘won’ was just…ouy. At least to my teenage self as I read those books and then looked at what was happening in the real world.

  2. I enjoyed many of these, and agree with R Coots above about Ender; that entire series was good. But my favorite would have to be David Weber’s Honor Harrington series.

    • Agreed. Weber had way too many little (and not so little) piles of politics for poor Honor to trip over.

  3. If you want sf that can truly inform you about real-world politics, read the Mercenary series (the stories of John Christian Falkenberg, starting with West of Honor) written by Jerry Pournelle, a man with a PhD in political science and some real-world experience with winning and losing political campaigns. And military stuff (he fought as an artillery officer in the Korean war).

    • Agreed. His whole taxpayers versus citizens theme still makes me look sideways at a lot of politicians and pundits.

      For those not into the series or the Co-Dominium worlds,on Earth in the US, anyone born was a citizen. And was treated like dirt unless they fought hard to get out of the common herd. Usually it took a miracle, and even then people looked down on citizens. Only taxpayers had any rights and privileges, and they had become a very small and self-contained group indeed by the time of _West of Honor_. The colony worlds served as a bit of an escape valve, some of them, and even then, well, when a politician on Earth develops a bit of a grudge . . .

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